Jun 18, 2021 1 min read

The Cleaners by Ken Liu

The Cleaners by Ken Liu

Ken Liu's treatment of memory is unique in this story.  As part of an anthology for Amazon, The Cleaners is one of five Kindle shorts with audio narration.  My encounters with memory in speculative fiction have involved technology that either attempted to capture, preserve, erase, or manipulate it for generally nefarious reasons.  In this story though, memory is tangible - residue that builds up on surfaces and possessions.  People who touch these objects can feel, but not always understand or interpret, the emotions swirling in these deposits.  Often it overwhelms or singes someone.

The story brings together Gui, a memory-blind cleaner who actually doesn't feel anything when he touches other peoples possessions, and Clara who is trying to rid her possessions of her husband's, comingled with her own, memory deposits.  Gui's condition allows him to be one of the most sought-after cleaners because he can spend adequate time scrubbing the deposits out. Such is Clara's past that she wants her possessions thoroughly scrubbed.

The story brings about wonderful questions: how do we want to live with our memories?  What are we without them?  Objects, especially in our personal lives, are really things waiting to turn into memories - good, bad, bland, or sharp.  Clara goes through a journey in this short story, as does Gui, and we as the readers are left with the same questions as the characters.

I highly recommend this quick listen.  Liu's prose and pacing serve the story very well, and best of all, there's the perfect amount of world-building to serve the purpose of the story, and no more.

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